WHAT NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT MAKING PEACE WITH FOOD & YOUR BODY
Trigger warning: This content may be triggering to those with eating disorders or in recovery. Please consider having a parent or caregiver review before reading.
By the time I turned 30 (seven years ago), I was beyond fed up with wasting time and energy being unkind to myself. After decades of picking my body apart and worrying about rolls constantly (the kind on my tummy and in the bread basket), I was determined to leave the disordered eating and body image habits in the past. Immediately.
Fast forward through 7 long, messy, frustrating years spent discovering that our brains prefer comfortable and familiar habits and thought patterns, even if they aren’t good for us. Retraining our brains, rewording inner monologues, rewriting narratives that have been playing for months, years, decades in some cases, is complicated and challenging work that takes time. A lot of time.
I’ve been doing deep work on my relationship with food and my body for almost 7 years. I’m now a health coach who constantly reinforces kinder, more liberating food and body narratives personally and professionally every single day, and I still occasionally have days when I struggle. I also sometimes find myself resentful of the effort required to think and act in a way that supports a shift from fear and loathing to love and acceptance. Why can’t I just be normal and carefree eating a cheeseburger in a bikini no matter what my weight? And then I remember the cold hard truth: I, and the society I live in, have reinforced unkind habits and thoughts around food and body for almost 30 years. I can’t expect to change the way I think and feel about it all after only a fraction of that time. And neither can you.
Although I’m grateful that there is more openness and dialogue around making peace with food and our bodies in the media, often what we see is over simplified, prettied up and packaged (often to sell products or services) in a way that I believe is a bit misleading and does a disservice to people embarking on this journey. If the expectation is that this is a simple, 30-day, sunshine and roses process, people are destined to feel as if they’re doing everything wrong when it’s anything but, and they’re likely to give up. The truth is a lot more complicated and loaded with things I wish I knew from the start. Below is my version of it. I’d love to hear your thoughts and add some reader content to help others out there too!
YOUR PROCESS IS YOUR OWN.Your evolution towards making peace with food and your body is going to be as unique as the childhood that shaped your beliefs about yourself, as individual as your beautifully singular body, as distinctive as your pain, your personality, your life story. Your process will not be like Karen’s. What worked for Sally may not work for you. It may take you longer, or less time than it took Jane. But none of that means you are doing ANYTHING wrong. It just means you are you, and Karen is Karen. Comparison is harmful enough, don’t let it effect your liberation from thoughts and behaviors that have been holding you back for too long.
IT TAKES A LOT OF TIME & ENERGY. I know many people fantasize about all of the time and energy they’ll get back when they let go of disordered behavior (I know I did), but the truth is, doing the work to change your thought patterns and behaviors can take just as much time and energy as obsessing about food and weight. In the beginning. Have faith it will get better over time, you will eventually get many precious hours in the day back, but you’re going to have to put a lot into the recovery process before you do.
YOU’RE GOING TO NEED HELP. Therapy, books, retreats, gurus, family, friends. Whatever works for you. Knowledge and community will be incredibly empowering on your journey. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. Take it from someone who wasted about 10 years doing that. Once you open up to receiving help in different forms, you begin to speed up recovery and ease your pain in really profound ways.
YOU CAN’T KEEP IT FROM YOUR SPOUSE, FAMILY, FRIENDS. And you don’t want to. You need unconditional love, support and encouragement, especially if you can’t give that to yourself right now (my hope is that you will learn to). I get it. You don’t want people to think differently of you, think you are weak or unable to perform your job or parenting duties. Consider this though: struggling with body image and disordered eating, or struggling with anything at all, is just another thing that makes you human. The shame and secrecy are what make it debilitating. Release yourself from that by bringing your loved ones into your journey and you won’t regret it. Openness and honesty, when you’re ready, will be truly liberating.
NOTE: Not everyone will respond how you hope they will. That is ok. Their reaction is NOT your responsibility. Respect that person’s boundaries and seek support elsewhere.
YOU’RE GOING TO BE MORE FRAGILE THAN YOU’D LIKE TO ADMIT. Just for a while. Your hormones, sleep, stress, environment, travel, so many things can effect your ability to stay on track, so prioritizing your mental and physical health is beyond important. Eating disorders are opportunistic diseases. Similar to when your immune system is down from stress and you’re more likely to get a cold, you’re more likely to see old behaviors resurface when you’re not putting your health first. Lay a solid foundation for progress by making sure your brain and body are strong and healthy.
YOU’RE GOING TO FEEL VERY UNCOMFORTABLE AT TIMES. Change is incredibly hard. Our brains and bodies resist it, even when it is positive change. You will likely experience uncomfortable mental and physical changes throughout the processes of learning to accept your body and making peace with food. Learning to sit with these changes, trusting the process, and developing new coping mechanisms that support your health instead of harm it will be well worth all the discomfort in the end.
TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK: I REALLY wanted to believe that if I did all the right things, I would be loving my body and feel totally relaxed around food in no time. No slip -ups. No binges. No eating my feelings. No numbing through food. The reality? Even though I was “so done with it all,” at first it was a miracle if I could go a whole week without doing one of those things. Then it was big if I went two weeks. Then those weeks turned into months. Even then, I would have these random times when for no apparent reason I would revert to processing stress and emotions through food (or a lack of it). Why does this happen? Because this process doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and old habits die VERY hard. There are endless variables that impact your ability to stay grounded and connected to your goal to make peace with your body and food. Stress, illness, family, holidays…When you find yourself slipping back into old habits and thought patterns, know that it doesn’t mean you’re destined to fail. It just means you’re human.
GOOD CHOICES ARE WAY HARDER TO MAKE THAN BAD ONES. It’s so much easier to bury your sorrows in a box of donuts than it is to sit with sadness and let yourself feel it. It is also easier to focus on the sexy promise of a changed body than it is to figure out why you’re not comfortable in your skin, and how you might learn to be. I wanted to feel less resistance to making positive choices for myself, but it is really hard in the beginning!
THERE IS NO CURE. I wish we could all pop a pill and wake up loving our nudie bodies and feeling zen around pizza and ice cream for eternity. The truth is, accepting our bodies as they are and making peace with food is kind of swimming up stream in our society. So it may take a long time to get there, and once you do, it’s likely you’ll have to continue to put in a little effort each day to stay there. But everything in life worth having requires a good deal of effort, right? And I’d say self acceptance and food freedom are well worth it.
MEDITATION & MINDFULNESS ARE POWERFUL CHANGE AGENTS. Increased awareness around your emotions, triggers and inner monologue are all bi-products of meditation and mindfulness that are incredibly supportive of this process. They are also often a much needed source of solitude and escape from the heaviness of this work.